It’s time to button up the house for the cold weather season, so here are a few tips to help you stay cozy, warm and hassle-free this winter.
Cold air is very heavy. If you think of it as a liquid that can stealthily seep into hidden spaces and cavities, it’ll help you anticipate trouble before it occurs in and around your plumbing.
Dead air spaces on the north and east sides of your home are the places most likely to accumulate cold, dense air, which can freeze both water supply and sewer pipes. If you’ve finished your basement, you’ve probably created cold pockets between the joist spaces above the dry-walled ceiling. So it’s a good idea to cut a hole in the ceiling below the cavity where the hose spigot pipes leave. Then cover it with one of those white, louvered metal vent covers used in heating systems. This will allow some warm room air into the space, and the grille cover makes the hole unobtrusive.
Another trouble spot is under sinks that back up to exterior walls. If your home was built in the ‘70s or earlier, you probably have very thin insulation batts between the studs. As I always recommend in my annual while-you’re-gone-during-the-winter checklist, you can simply open cabinet doors under kitchen and bath sinks on the coldest nights to keep pipes from freezing.
But for chronic situations that need a little more effort, you can also cut a hole in the drywall covering these pipes at the rear of the cabinet. Sometimes you’ll find the insulation is on the wrong side of the plumbing or that there just isn’t any at all! It’s a good idea to keep those holes open, too; tuck the insulation behind the pipes and cover the whole thing with one of those same grilles I mentioned above.
One other not-so-obvious trouble spot is on the outside. Use a swivel mirror and flashlight to look up and under the space where the siding meets the foundation. Sometimes there’s a good-sized gap, which can be packed closed with some loose insulation or filled in with some of that canned poly-foam.
In your crawl space, block off the most northerly vent opening to stop cold cross ventilation, but remember to unblock it next spring. Ditto for attics. If you’ve had issues with blown-in snow, it helps to block that most northerly-facing exterior vent (either outside or in) with a furnace filter.
If you wake up one morning to a frozen hot or cold water pipe (and it hasn’t burst!), the secret is patience. It’s best to let warm room air blow in and around it, with a little help from a hair dryer, if you must. Open the nearest faucet, start at that end and work backwards. Avoid using a butane or acetylene torch since they’re dangerous and can make the problem worse. You can also wrap a towel round the pipe and saturate it with hot water. For the few cases that won’t respond (because they’re inaccessible or frozen in more than one spot), it’s best to call a plumber who can use a welder setup or a torch to add heat and restore the flow.
Dear Ken: My roof got hailed on. I finally cleared all the paperwork with my insurance company, and my roofer wants to get started. Is it OK to put on shingles in cold weather? Or should I wait? — Li
Answer: As long as the roof isn’t leaking, I would wait. Your shingles have a sticky strip on their undersides, and when they get warm in the sun that strip melts a little. That process binds each shingle to its underlying neighbor making them less vulnerable to wind lift. This time of year — with the low sun and short days — you don’t get the adhesion that you’ll ultimately want, especially on the north side. So I would wait until it warms up, maybe early April. Not just a warm day or two, but look for a period of several moderate days, so the shingles will stay warm and the proper adhesion will take place.
Dear Ken: We bought a cultured marble counter top about four years ago. My daughter laid a curling iron on it and burned it. Is there any way to repair it? — Randy
Answer: The recommendations here are (1) to give your daughter a hug and (2) to try to sand it out with a #600 grit, wet/dry sheet. Cultured counters have a hard, slick, protective coat over an inner softer core. Once you breach that surface, you’ll expose a layer with a slightly different color. Anyway, try sanding it lightly to remove the burn and then shine it up it with some car or furniture polish.
Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His radio show airs at 4 pm Saturdays on KRDO, FM 105.5 and AM 1240. Visit aroundthehouse.com